Hawkwatching season is here! Freeport Wild Bird Supply (FWBS) will once again be partnering with Leica Sport Optics to sponsor the Spring Hawkwatch at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, beginning on March 15th. 2015 marks the ninth consecutive season for this project through which valuable data is collected while providing an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors. Not only does it feel like spring today, but in a mere four days (weather permitting), spring hawkwatching will be underway!
This year, we welcome Andrew Wolfgang as our official Hawkcounter. Andrew is a Biology graduate of Millersville University of Pennsylvania where he created two research projects studying bird diversity in riparian habitats and bird vocalization detection. Most recently, he worked as an environmental educator at Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Virginia. He is an experienced birder and hawkwatcher with a particular interest in Raptor Ecology. He’ll be stationed at the summit from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily from March 15th to May 15th.
Sharp-shinned Hawks shattered their previous record count last season. What will this season’s totals look like?
Rising 485 feet above the southern coastal plain, Bradbury Mountain provides unimpeded views to the south and east all the way to the islands of Casco Bay. Whether using updrafts off the mountain, gliding overhead, or soaring over the plains, observers watch raptors utilizing a variety of migratory methods as they work their way north. The goal of the project is to document this migration by identifying and counting all raptors that pass by the mountain. Last year’s count was record-setting, with 6,015 hawks tallied, including 97 Bald Eagles, 724 Ospreys and 2,357 Broad-winged Hawks. All but two of our regularly occurring species were counted in above average numbers, with seven species showing record season highs. We were particularly excited to count 190 Red-shouldered Hawks (160% above the average) – a species that had not been known to migrate through Maine in any significant numbers before the start of this project nine years ago. Over a period of years, these data can be analyzed to determine trends in species numbers as well as changes in distributions, which when studied in conjunction with other monitoring sites across the continent, give us a broadscale idea of what is happening with raptor populations.
Last year’s record-shattering season got off to a great start thanks to the late arrival of spring. Late snowfall well to our south, cold temperatures and ice cover on lakes and rivers, and the lack of favorable southerly winds greatly limited the number of birds (especially Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and Red-tailed Hawks) that pushed north before the beginning of our count season. We would expect a similar situation this spring – there hasn’t been a whole lot of spring prior to March 15th this year once again. That should get things off to a great start.
But, it is not just about the numbers. Hawkwatching is a very social activity that is accessible to birders of all abilities. Last spring, we interacted with more than 1500 visitors! Seeing your first kettle (group of birds rising up on an updraft or thermal) of 50+ Broad-winged Hawks, or learning how to tell the difference between a Bald Eagle and a Turkey Vulture several miles away is an eye-opening experience for many folks. Organized hawkwatch sites, like Bradbury Mountain, are great places to meet new people and learn about raptors and the conservation issues they face at the same time.
So, grab your binoculars and join us atop Bradbury Mountain this spring. Andrew will gladly answer questions about the raptors you will see and help visitors learn what to look for to identify the 18 species that may pass by. The hawkwatch is free, though there is an entry fee to the park.
Also, be sure to mark your calendar for Feathers Over Freeport: A Birdwatching Weekend on April 25th – 26th. The Hawkwatch will be one of many featured activities during this family-oriented event at Bradbury Mountain and Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Parks.
More information about the hawkwatch, including a link to daily counts, can be found on our website, here.
And to read about last spring’s record-shattering season, check out this blog entry on Leica’s blog.
And you know where to find me on most birding days for the next two months!